Online Discussion of Sexual Abuse in the Former Soviet Union Is a Start Toward a Solution


Image: Anastasiya Melnychenko. Facebook

I am one of the many women in the former Soviet Union who was cheered when Ukrainian journalist Anastasiya Melnychenko decided to discuss on social media the many instances of sexual harassment and abuse she has suffered since she was a child.

Her postings on Facebook caused a sensation -- because no woman in the region had ever talked about sexual trauma in a public forum before.

The postings prompted hundreds of women in Ukraine -- and later Russia -- to discuss their own experiences as sexual-harassment and -abuse victims.

And they prompted the inevitable backlash, particularly from men who contended that the victims were to blame for what had happened.

I've known several women in the former Soviet Union who were sexual-harassment or -abuse victims, and I've experienced sexual harassment myself.

It didn't surprise me that the many men in the region who believe they are superior to women simply because of their gender were quick to lash out at the women who responded to Melnychenko's posts with their own victimization revelations.

What cheers me the most about the posts is that in order to address a social problem, you first have to get it out in the open for all to see and discuss.

Melnychenko has done that by beginning her posting a few weeks ago.

At first the discussion that ensued occurred only among her fellow Ukrainians. Then it spread to Russia.

My hope is that the momentum continues so that the issue becomes a lightning rod across the former Soviet Union.

When society gets an issue like this out in the open, it's more likely to do something about it -- although you can be sure there will be entrenched opposition from those who want women to "stay in their place."

For the life of me, I can't understand how even the worst Neanderthals -- and I'm including women as well as men -- can say that the notion of women "staying in their place" includes keeping your mouth shut after you've been sexually harassed or raped.

Melnychenko said it best. "We're not to blame, those who violate us are ALWAYS to blame," she asserted in a defiant post.

Facebook user Ekaterina Romanovskaya summed up the discussion that Melnychenko touched off by noting that the posts from those who responded to her covered "thousands of episodes of sexual abuse." The responses dealt with "hundreds of flashbacks involving strangers, co-workers, boyfriends, relatives, family friends, bosses, tutors, doctors," Romanovskaya said.

Predictably, many men reacted with contempt, trotting out the old saw that harassment and abuse victims "ask for it."

When a woman is raped, some of them said, it's because she is wearing provocative clothes, is drunk or is walking home at night alone.

My question to these jerks: Since when does being tipsy or walking home alone at night mean you are signaling that you want to be raped?

And as for provocative clothing being a sign that you are "asking for it," many women in the former Soviet Union like to follow the latest fashion trends, including skirts that can ride high and tops that can ride low. This does not mean they are advertising to be raped.

A typical response from those who blame the victims were the comments of a so-called sex expert whom Russia's Life News interviewed about the discussion that Melnychenko's posts generated.

The "expert" from the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis floated the ludicrous notion that a discussion about sexual harassment and sexual abuse should not be held online because it would arouse those who might be inclined toward rape to go out and commit the act.

The "expert" also said that many of the posts about sexual harassment and sexual abuse that women were making in response to Melnychenko's posts were probably fabricated.

The posts opened the eyes of men who are not Neanderthals, however.

"I really didn't expect that so many women and girls I knew were victims of violence and harassment, some at a young age," Artem Loskutov noted. The artist said "it's hard to imagine how you can live with such trauma, how you can live in silence, and it's very important that thanks to the Ukrainian viral action, many people have been able to speak out finally."

How long it takes for the social-media-generated public recognition of this problem to lead to a solution remains to be seen.

I'm hoping for the best, but I'm fearful it may take decades.

My pessimism is partly rooted in the hostility I've seen toward Armenia's first non-profit organization founded to help women -- the Armenian Women's Resource Center in the capital of Yerevan.

The center has received bomb threats and threats that its staff's throats will be slit from those who have slavered that they are threats to the nation and destroyers of the family.

Armine Sahakyan is a human rights activist based in Armenia. A columnist with the Kyiv Post and a blogger with The Huffington Post, she writes on human rights and democracy in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Follow her on Twitter at: